I will freely admit that I do not watch movies for art's sake. I am not a expert, nor even an amature, film buff. I go to be entertained. To be quite honest, I am a book person. For that reason, I find it a fascinating experience to go to a critically acclaimed movie. Do I "get" why the critics love the film? Do I share their reaction? I ask myself these type of questions about movies that are hot among the literati of the film world.
About Schmidt is one of those films. In case you are unfamiliar with the film here is a quick rundown of the plot:
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has spent his entire life selling insurance, coming home every evening to his pleasant-enough family. But after retirement, Schmidt packs up his things and sets out in his brand-new Winnebago to crash his daughter's (Hope Davis) wedding to a hapless waterbed salesman.
There has been a lot of Oscar talk surrounding Jack Nicholson's prefomrance. But what is interesting is why critics like certain films. Sometimes it is conceptual (what the movie attempts to do or say). Sometimes it is the performances (what the actors accomplished). Sometimes it is just the way everything comes together. About Schmidt's buzz is really about the second with a little of the first.
Take for example this James Bowman review (Bowman listed About Schmidt as one of his top ten for 2002). What Bowman appreciates about the film is what it attempts to accomplish. He appreciates the film because it seeks to avoid the temptation to dres failure up as heroic achievement:
The voyage of self-discovery with all that it suggests of emotional (and other forms of) liberation finally leaves him untouched. He still has to suck it up as he has been sucking it up all his life. What is most impressive about the film, I think, is that this is not seen as a tragedy. It is too ordinary for that. Warren's speech at the wedding reception is truly a great cinematic moment — a celebration of (gasp) emotional continence, of politeness, of a refusal to make a fuss — and is effective partly because our expectations, both of Jack Nicholson and of the long-running movie romance with personal authenticity, go entirely the other way. Nicholson's ability to convey that sense of personal authenticity is what made him a star. But Payne crosses us up, he doesn't allow us the easy satisfaction of a hero whose noisy insistence on his own way of looking at things or doing things produces an inevitable but implausible triumph for him. This guy knows better, but he also knows that his knowledge is not wanted or needed, and accepting that with a good grace is one of the hardest things we ever have to do, and the hardest thing of all for a movie.
Bowman sees in Schmidt's acceptance of what life gives him a kind of stoicism. Bowman appreciates the lack of sentimentality and "authenticity"
in the film. In a culture drowning in self-actualization and where sentiment and emotion are seen as of higher value than character, Bowman view Schmidt as heroic rather than pathetic.